Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Winchester Mystery House

The Winchester Mystery House is located in San Jose, right in the middle of town, which was kind of weird for me, actually, because you don't think about a "haunted mansion" being right downtown surrounded by buildings and restaurants. Of course, there was no city surrounding the house when it was being built... when it was being built for 38 years.

Here are the facts:
Sarah was married to William Winchester, the only son of Oliver Winchester, the owner of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.

Sarah and William had a daughter who died after only about a month. Sarah was devastated by the loss, and the couple never had more children.

Her father-in-law died in 1880 and her husband died in 1881, leaving her with about a 50% ownership in the company and insanely wealthy.

The death of her husband drove her out west, where she purchased the property on which she would begin building her mansion.

Once construction began on her mansion, it continued non-stop up until the moment of her death, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. (As far as I can tell, there were no exceptions to this.)

She had a fascination with the number 13.

Here are the legends:
She believed she was cursed because of all the gun deaths caused by her company.

She built her mansion in the haphazard style that she did to confuse the spirits of the dead which were constantly seeking her out.

She slept in a different bedroom every night so that the ghosts would never know where she was.

I think I had some other things I wanted to say about this, but I got interrupted, and I don't remember what other things there were. Anyway...
Taking pictures inside the house is not allowed, but, as I said in yesterday's post, we went on a candlelight tour, so there wasn't enough light for pictures anyway. Pictures will be posted tomorrow from the grounds.

Fun fact:
The house was originally seven stories tall, but it lost three stories in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It was never rebuilt to that height and remains at four stories, today.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Winchester (a movie review post)

Let me start this off by saying that I am not a horror movie person. But, then, that was not my motivation for watching this movie and, now, having seen it, I'd have to say that this is barely a horror movie, which was probably the cause of its poor reception. When you have something billed as a horror movie, the people going to see it want horror. At best, this can only be called a spooky movie. In fact, it was rather reminiscent of the TV show Ghost Whisperer.

That being said, my family largely enjoyed the movie, but, then, none of us are horror movie people so, if it had actually been a horror movie, we, as a family, wouldn't have watched it. I would have been doing that on my own because, like I alluded to, I had other motivations for watching the movie. The main one being that the house in the movie is a real place, the Winchester Mystery House, and we had been talking about going to visit it for years. When the movie came out, with Helen Mirren, no less, I figured I'd watch it since we still hadn't been to visit the house.

But I never got around to it.

Then, we went to visit the house, finally!, back in September, and that provided the motivation to watch the movie, as a family, no less, though that took some convincing because of its "horror movie" status.

As I said, my family largely enjoyed the film. Easily, the best bits were when they used rooms we had seen on our tour, at night by candlelight! (new this year), which gave the movie some personal emotional connection. The acting was fine, Helen Mirren perhaps a bit wasted in this particular role, though, since the movie didn't really rise above the ghostly mundane.

I think the biggest failure of the movie was its lack of focus on the house itself. Sure, the house features into the movie, but it's really only ever a side-effect. It's like the filmmakers couldn't decide whether they were making a horror movie or a historical movie and, so, fell somewhere in the middle, a middle which didn't really work for the public in general since, I'm sure, most of the public doesn't realize the house is real and, certainly, most of the public has never been there.

Anyway, if you like a little bit of spook, especially since this is October, this could be worth watching. If you like a lot of spook, this is not for you. If you like a little bit of history and a lot of history-fiction (shut up, I don't want to say "historical fiction," right now), this could be worth watching. If you like a more in depth look at your history in your history-fiction, this is going to disappoint, as it doesn't really ever tell you anything more than that there was a woman named Sarah Winchester who built a weird house.

And more on that tomorrow.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Hanging Chad

I was thinking today about how, sometimes, the course of history seems to bend around seemingly inconsequential moments. Moments that might even seem consequential at the time but only in the way that a kid thinks any given Christmas is consequential but, then, easily forgotten. So the moments, no matter how anticipated they were, fade into inconsequentialness, and we never think of them again even though they turn out to be pivot points of history.

So... here we are on the brink of environmental devastation... the end of life on Earth in its current incarnation... and I was wondering how we got here.

It's not like this was all of a sudden and we couldn't have made plans long ago about how to deal with it. It's been more like a gas gauge in a car, and we've been choosing to bypass all of the gas stations along the freeway telling ourselves we'll be fine even though the gas stations have been fewer and fewer along our drive...

Have you ever driven through west Texas? I have. Granted, it's been a while, but I can't imagine it's changed much. When you drive through west Texas, which is vast, there are signs along the freeway that say things like "Next gas station 48 miles," which may not seem like much, but it's a long way when your gas gauge is riding the empty line.

We're in a car running on fumes and about 20 miles into that 48 mile trip to the next station.

You do the math.

The thing is that the driver of the car has been choosing to drive past gas stations for hundreds of miles. We, as passengers, haven't been paying attention, but the driver has known all along.

See, it's a metaphor.

Scientists and politicians and corporations have known about climate change for decades. It's just the public that hasn't been very aware, and that was all the better for politicians and corporations. Still, with things like acid rain in the 70s and 80s, scientists almost convinced politicians and corporations to do something about the looming threat of environmental catastrophe all the way back in the 80s. Almost. Until corporations really looked into the cost and profit loss of fixing the planet, and they made the decision to fuck the planet and rape it for all it was worth on its way to ruin. By the early 90s, Republicans had us firmly on the path of unnatural disaster and did it gleefully.

But there was still a pivotal moment, a moment that probably seems inconsequential to most of us, right now, but that's only because we're not looking at it through the correct lens.

That moment was Al Gore's loss to Bush for the Presidency in 2000. We could even point, more specifically, to the hanging chad controversy in Florida and the subsequent Supreme Court case that handed the Presidency to Bush in a 5-4 decision. That one moment changed everything and sent us on a path to destruction that we seem unwilling to stop.

Hey, I get it. I was no fan of Gore at the time. He seemed like milk toast to me. And I never liked Bubba Clinton (still don't like him, though I'm a huge fan of his wife). Then, when 9/11 happened, I thought how fortunate we were to have Bush instead of Gore. Yeah, I was young and stupid, and, hey, I grew up in the South and still had some of that stupidity running around in my head.

Let's go back and look at that moment, though, that moment that gave us Bush, and wonder what things would be like if Gore, who WON THE POPULAR VOTE (sound familiar?), had become the President instead.

  • Gore was (and is) extremely environmentally minded. He would have put us on a path of environmental reconstruction more than a decade before Obama began making the attempts. (Attempts that Trump (#fakepresident) has completely reversed making things worse than ever.)
  • Gore would not have involved us in all of the wars that Cheney put us in. Wars motivated by profit and oil, not delivering democracy or freedom to people.
  • I'm just gonna go ahead and say that we would not have suffered the financial crash of 2008 if Gore had been in office. Much of what allowed that to happen can be traced specifically to, well, not exactly Bush, because Bush was too stupid, but to Cheney and his people. Profit at all costs and all of that bullshit.
  • Trump (#fakepresident) would not be driving our country and the world out into the middle of the desert right now in a car with no fuel.
I'm not saying everything today would be all sunshine and roses if Gore had been President; after all, there would still have been the scum-of-the-Earth Republicans (especially Newt and Mitch) doing all they can to destroy us all. But I do think things would be... better. And we would at least be on a path of environmental protection rather than one of environmental destruction. And, maybe, yes, MAYBE, the Middle East wouldn't hate us quite as much, because I'm pretty sure Gore's response to 9/11 would have been much more measured than the "bomb the shit out of them" approach the Republicans took.

It's all just something to think about. Hindsight and all of that.

It's also something to think about because I believe we're just a few weeks away from another of those pivot points in history. And, yes, we do see this one coming up as consequential, and that's because IT IS. We can't allow the Boomers another win in November. If they consolidate their power with this upcoming election, that will be the end. Authoritarianism will have taken root firmly in American soil, and there will never be another fair election in the United States again. Not without a rebellion. But, more importantly, it will spell the final doom for the Earth.

Sure, you go on and say that I'm being extreme, but, then, you go read the UN climate report and tell me if you still think that. If you do, you're one of the people in the car running on fumes, passing the last gas station while telling yourself, "We'll be okay." We're not gonna "be okay" folks. It's time to turn this thing around and start fixing the damage that's been done.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Roberto Devereux (an opera review post)

Donizetti is one of the most prolific composers of opera who has ever lived, having composed nearly 70 operas in his 50 or so years on Earth. I'm just going to assume, wait, I don't have to assume; he wrote his first opera at 19, so that's better than two a year for the rest of his life. Which I don't know why I'm telling you (or even if I told you before, considering that this is the third Donizetti opera I've now seen) other than to say that Donizetti wrote a LOT of operas, and I'm having to go with idea that they weren't always good. On the one hand, I loved Don Pasquale but, then... Well, then there's this.

I want to make it clear, here, that my problem is specifically with the opera itself, not the production. As is generally the case with SFO, the production was top notch. The set, while not as good as the previous opera we saw, was still pretty fantastic and based, loosely, on the Globe theater. It was meant as a metaphor, but I'm not sure that bit really worked. The costumes were great. And the performances...

Okay, Sondra Radvanovsky, who played Queen Elizabeth, was amazing. Seriously, she was incredible. Both her singing and her acting. I can't quite say the same for the rest of the cast. Not that any of them were bad, they just didn't rise to the same level as Radvanovsky.

And this is where bits of the opera begin to fall apart for me, though. It's a bel canto style opera, which means, approximately, "beautiful song." Donizetti was one of the central figures in bel canto. On the surface, that sounds fine, right, an opera with beautiful songs? The problem is that bel canto can better be described as happy sounding music. It's all light and bubbly and stuff and, well, Roberta Devereux is a tragedy. The words and the music don't fit together at all. It's a little disconcerting to have someone singing about betrayal and heartache while sounding as if she's singing about a glorious spring day.

Then there's the bit where Donizetti and his librettist, Salvadore Cammarano, took an actual historical event and completely fictionalized it... to get at the "emotional truth" of the story, they said. Um, wait... If you completely change the story so that it has no real relation to the things that actually happened, how can you get at any emotional truth involved in what really happened? The short answer: You can't! And they went for the wrong "emotional truth" with this story, anyway.

Which brings us to the biggest issue of Roberto Devereux:
Elizabeth governed England during a time of tremendous prosperity for the country. "She" defeated the Spanish Armada, making England ruler of the seas. And while I know it can be debated how much of this or how much of that can be attributed to Elizabeth, Donizetti reduces her to a petty, lovesick adolescent who has people executed for spite and personal vengeance. A female Trump (#fakepresident), if you will.

It was disappointing, to say the least. It played up all of the worst cliches about women while adding some horrible plot devices, including what can best be described as a "magic" ring that worked as a "get out of execution free" card. This is not an opera I'd ever want to see again, no matter the production. And it puts in doubt future Donizetti operas. Yeah, despite how much I loved Pasquale, this one was so bad that I'm not sure I want to see anything else by the guy. Especially since I wasn't crazy about Lucia di Lammermoor, either. Maybe another of his comedies.